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Movember: Real Stories | The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride:
Cover Image: Albert Angel
by Anthony Brower
I’ve seen what toxic environments can do to people, both men and women, and we don’t have enough safe places to deal with it. Many of us have been there and sometimes don’t even know it. We’ve all felt uncomfortable in our own skin, unappreciated, undervalued and just plain not respected, and it sends you to a place where you begin to question your own worth. I ride for those who can’t and stand as a champion for those who need to be supported. Far too many of us put on a brave face and ‘accept it’, but if you look closely, you might see a shadow of what’s below the surface. If you take just a moment from your day and ask someone how they’re doing, you just might be the one person they feel cares which can turn someone around.
Looking beyond individual connections and support, these issues go a little further than simply being present. As an architect I try to design spaces that encourage social interaction and give people the opportunity to again feel that sense of community which makes them feel empowered and rebuild identity. Such spaces allow for the unscheduled moments to connect with others. It is in these moments that we feel our greatest sense of self-empowerment and belonging. COVID-19 has shown us what a disruption of the status quo looks like on a global scale and has left us to reconcile with what is left of our autonomy in a world permanently changed. What we will need are spaces that provide meaningful connections and respect for everyone’s personal choices. Autonomy and connection will be core to creating an overall sense of well-being in the places where we engage with others.
Through my tenure associated with the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, I’ve been a participant, ambassador, Co-city Host in Los Angeles, and fundraiser for nearly a decade raising more than $50,000 to help advance Movember’s mission. The event and fundraising are what people see and respond to, but it’s more than simply an annual event for me.
We must start with the notion that we don’t know what people are carrying around emotionally. When someone takes their own life, the initial response is reactive empathy. ‘If I knew, I would have said something’. But when someone is actively asking for help, the response can sometimes be too critical or over-simplify how that person is feeling, like they are being looked at or treated differently. This can stifle any of us from asking for help. As a community, we need to do better. I try to create an environment of safety with friends and colleagues every day, not just once a year.
Someone in my office who I am friends with, walked past me in the hallway and we did what we all do in the office in-between tasks with the head nod “sup” as our paths crossed, but it seemed like something was wrong. I continued on to my desk, but it didn’t sit right with me, and I made it a point to stop by and check in on him later that day out of concern to ask how he was doing. He deflected, saying that he was ok, and that was seemingly the end of it. A few days later he came back to thank me for just noticing and checking in with him. He was going through something at the time and wasn’t feeling seen.
Sometimes you need to give someone that chance to communicate, almost like we’re giving each other permission. It’s ok to feel something, it’s ok to talk to somebody about what you’re feeling, and just being there is an overlooked part of the equation. I didn’t have a solution for him when he eventually told me what was troubling him, but I did have the capacity and empathy to listen. The great thing about the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride is the light it shines on Movember’s mission. Because we’re fundraising for the cause, it gives us all permission to start talking about these issues more openly. Without that permission the conversations don’t happen as often as they need to. It’s why these issues are called invisible diseases. I never understood why people would draw correlations between motorcycling and therapy until I started riding. Anxiety is one of several invisible diseases that many people carry around every day. Feelings of nervousness; impending danger; increased heart rate; rapid breathing; sweating; feeling tired; and trouble concentrating are all symptoms of anxiety. Apart from the last one, all these feelings materialize through the stages of learning and gaining proficiency in motorcycling. How is it that the same group of emotions that we associate with an emotional disorder, are so closely mirrored in an activity of release and freedom? The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride and Movember bring these issues to the surface in a meaningful way. Let’s strive to create positive environments and opportunities that influence and inspire those around us to create borderless and safe spaces for all.